A Huge Rousing Success - 2017 Blues in The Loft at SOPAC Hat City Kitchen Contest

By Gregory Burrus | Posted Wednesday, January 25, 2017

There are several Blues Music Jams running throughout the Northern NJ area that folks come out to on a regular basis, listen to local area artists or play with the local musicians, and have loads of fun.  Late last year, one jam decided to give the participants of the Blues Jam a little bit of anxiety, and the audience a boatload of fun.  Mike Griot of PWI Promotions and Entertainment decided he did not want a battle of the bands, but he did want to give the local Blues Talent that showed up and jam every week a way to gain more exposure and a bigger payday.  Mike expressed his sentiments this way:

MIKE GRIOT – Curator, SOPAC Blues In the Loft

MIKE GRIOT – Curator, SOPAC Blues In the Loft

“It is with great anticipation that I announce yet another opportunity for many of you to express yourself to an even wider audience.  Although SOPAC and BLUES IN THE LOFT have been established for many years, it is and continues to be my charge to create new venues, new collaborations and new opportunities for emerging performers to express their artistic voices to as large an audience as possible.  It is also an added bonus to be able to offer a select performer a future paid performance opportunity as a result of their hard work and dedication to their craft... believe me: I UNDERSTAND.” - Mike Griot

Not wanting a regular battle of the bands, Mike Griot, who is also Executive Director of Valley Arts PACArts, seized on the idea of a Live Blues Jam Contest.  Working the idea into a long running Blues Jam, he collaborated with the Al Gold Sunday Afternoon Blues Jam, running 7 years, twice a month, every other Sunday at Hat City Kitchen.

The concept that came out of the collaboration was as Mike stated: “The format is simple: attend the jams... express your interest in the SOPAC event to Al (Gold), sit-in solo (or with a mate) with the house band.”

So, have the JAM participants show up and play with the Hat City Kitchen house band demonstrating what they can do in the impromptu setting of the jam. 

Over 8 different Sundays from October through December, jammers came from as far as South Jersey and from many different parts of Northern New Jersey and New York.

It was an exciting contest as some jammers are not used to competition whereas others immediately jumped on to the role of being a contestant.  This was made harder as the goal of each week during the selection process was to keep the normal jam going, keep the judges hidden, and the structure of the jam the same.  What did change was the quantity of jammers, the quality of the jammers’ performance and the variety of jammers.  Over the selection timeframe, musicians and vocalists showed up from 8 to 80.  The jams ran longer by an hour and half, yet folks stayed and had loads of fun.  Eventually the final number of contestants were selected, given the news, and off to the final contest venue they went.

The Big Day is Here – SOPAC Blues in the Loft Contest

On January 15, 2017, the contest was held in the lofts of the beautiful South Orange Performing Arts Center located in downtown South Orange, NJ.  Widely promoted, folks and celebrities came out in full force to enjoy the festivities.

Al Gold Sunday Blues Jam, Hat City Kitchen House Band

Al Gold with Hat City Kitchen House Band at SOPAC

Al Gold with Hat City Kitchen House Band at SOPAC

And in keeping with the theme of a regular jam, this event was hosted by Mike Griot and the regular weekly jam host, Al Gold, along with the Hat City Kitchen House band consisting of: Jerry Cordasco - Drums, Tom Rice - Guitar, Mark Pavlica – Bass, and B3 Billy Baker – Keys, and Al Gold on vocals.

The SOPAC Blues in the Loft Contest Judges

SOPAC Blues in the Loft Judges, Hat City Kitchen Edition. Image: Gregory Burrus

SOPAC Blues in the Loft Judges, Hat City Kitchen Edition. Image: Gregory Burrus

Prior to the final contests, the judges were announced, and they consisted of music industry experts, performers and local community personalities who have seen the participants perform over time.  Left to right: Lee Finkelstein – Drummer at The Original Blues Brothers Band, Dennis Gruenling - BadAss Harmonica Player & Disc Jockey at WFDU, Billy Hector – East Coast Rocker’s “Best Guitarist” award-winner 2X’s., Kara Winslow - Board Member of the North Jersey Blues Alliance, Pat Morrissy - HANDS Redevelopment Executive Director, and Ed the Soundman of Hat City Kitchen. .

Hat City Kitchen in the SOPAC Lofts

Hat City Kitchen Manager, Jennifer Piscoya (center), with her staff.  Image: Gregory Burrus. 

Hat City Kitchen Manager, Jennifer Piscoya (center), with her staff.  Image: Gregory Burrus. 

In keeping with the theme, the cuisine served was supplied Hat City Kitchen restaurant.  Even more in keeping with the “keep it real theme” was the fact that the restaurant brought in the regular serving staff which made the event even more fun, as these guys did a great job.

The SOPAC Blues In the Loft Contest is On

Well, after the many weeks of competition, contestant selection and getting the details ready, the stage was set and the night’s festivities and competition was underway.

It’s All About That Bass - Unveiling Earl May’s 165-Year-Old Bass

An extremely sweet opening act of the night was the unveiling of the Bass by the Host and Bass Man himself, Mike Griot, accompanied by Al Gold.

Al Gold - Guitar, Mike Griot – Bass.  Image: Gregory Burrus. 

Al Gold - Guitar, Mike Griot – Bass.  Image: Gregory Burrus. 

History was made with the unveiling of the 165-year-old Bass formerly played by Earl May (1927 – 2008).  Earl May, who studied under Charles Mingus, was one of the most prodigious and prolific bassists of the postwar era, lending his rich, round sound to sessions headlined by jazz icons John Coltrane, Chet Baker, Dizzy Gillespie, Junior Mance, Barry Harris, Gloria Lynne and many more.  What made this segment even sweeter was that the host Mike Griot played the Bass, supported by the Jam host Al Gold.

Even nicer was the fact that Earl May’s wife, Lee Boz May (black dress) was in the audience and beaming, as she could keep her wish to Earl which was to keep the music alive.   

Meanwhile Contestants Were Ready

Finally, it was time for the contestants.  They came in to cheers and applause as they waited their turn to perform.  The contestants had a chance to perform a song they knew, and then in the second act, they had to perform a song based on a genre and a theme that they learned minutes before they took to the stage.  The contestants performed several tunes, sang and played their hearts out, and the audience loved it.

Contestants (top row) Sheri Butts, Vin Mott, Mimi Nowak, (middle row) Tara Layne, Adam M. Gustavson, Carol Fredericks, Steve Sadowski, (bottom row) guitarists Andy Fuchs, Douglas A Allen III, and Johnny Charles.  Image: Gregory Burrus.

Contestants (top row) Sheri ButtsVin MottMimi Nowak, (middle row) Tara LayneAdam M. GustavsonCarol FredericksSteve Sadowski, (bottom row) guitarists Andy FuchsDouglas A Allen III, and Johnny Charles.  Image: Gregory Burrus.

One of the other nice acts during the night, was that during the selection stage there were loads of contestants so a small part of the night was dedicated to a few selected guitarists who came up and performed with the HKC House Band.  It was another fun highlight of the night as each guitarist did their solos, and folks enjoyed the segment tremendously.

There Can Only Be One…

SOPAC Blues In The Loft winner Vin Mott (second from left) with House Band, Al Gold (far right), and Mike Griot (third from left).  Image: Gregory Burrus.

SOPAC Blues In The Loft winner Vin Mott (second from left) with House Band, Al Gold (far right), and Mike Griot (third from left).  Image: Gregory Burrus.

After some truly outstanding performances by all contestants, it is, as the saying goes, “there can only be one.”  The judges tallied their scores and a winner was identified.  The winner, a crowd favorite, is one Vin Mott of Vin Mott's Rhythm & Blues Band.  He played some serious harmonica blues and sang some soulful tunes.  It was truly a great performance and a well-deserved award.

The Local Celebrity Audience was Awesome

A big part of a night like this is the audience, as it is and should be, all blues jams.  They come, they mingle, they dance, they meet their favorite performers and they cheer on their favorites all night long.

The night closed with folks communicating and connecting as a wonderful night of Blues music in The SOPAC Loft came to an end.  Truly a very special night enjoyed by all.  A big thank you goes out to all those who supported us.  And you can check out a complete set of images from the 2017 1st annual SOPAC Blues in the Loft: Hat City Kitchen Contest Winners 20170116.

About the Author

Gregory Burrus is a supporter of local businesses, community events, jazz, blues musicians, and local art exhibitions.  Gregory is a manager and promoter of the South Orange Downtown After Sundown Live Music Events, a Board Member of the North Jersey Blues Alliance, promotes many activities of the Valley Arts District, and is an avid supporter of all Jazz activities within the area.  On a regular basis, Gregory promotes events through social media marketing, writing articles, blogging and photojournalism.